Merely a decade ago, television schedules dictated when and where audiences could enjoy their favorite show or movie.
That is, until the popularity of instant streaming devices such as: Netflix, Hulu, TiVo, etc. The aforementioned sites have laid the groundwork for what appears to be a revolutionary idea of letting the public watch what they want, when they want.
“The longest I’ve ever continuously watched a show on a streaming platform? Probably ten or so hours… it was a good day,” Jesse White said with a grin.
White, a self-proclaimed “binge-watcher,” agreed to speak to Lake Voice on the topic after getting in contact via an anonymous request for an interview through social media.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation, House of Cards, Ancient Aliens, Breaking Bad are probably my most viewed programs on my Netflix,” White said.
A dramatic or thrilling program is what he prefers when alone, but it is interesting to note that the tone of his bingeing can change if others are present.
White explains that he uses his Nintendo Wii to stream Netflix in his living room. He prefers Netflix to other outlets because of the selection, which he deems 'above and beyond' other platforms.
Although the term bingeing on anything is seen as a negative connotation in our society, White doesn’t look at his marathon viewings as a deterrent to his social life but quite the opposite.
“I would guess it is about 50/50 bingeing by myself or with others. Normally when it is just me, I like to relax with a drama or documentary series, however if I’m watching with my friends we normally stick to comedies,” said White.
Is it possible that people find it more satisfying to laugh with others? Maybe. Is it possible that the time of day can dictate what programming he yearns to watch? Perhaps.
Mostly a night owl, White confesses he is often up late into the early morning hours bingeing on Netflix programs.
When asked why he believes people enjoy streaming services to the point of bingeing, White said he thought it might be because of the “autoplay” feature on these services.
“When I’m on the fence between being productive and watching another episode, that damn ticker sure is persuasive in keeping me on my couch,” White said.
Many streaming platforms have the “autoplay” feature, which allows another episode to begin merely seconds after the last one wrapped up.
Video entertainment via instant streaming services has certainly shaken the foundation of the entertainment industry and the public consuming it.
The term “binge-watching” soon began to take shape as people were able to finish an entire television season in one day, if they so please, through the use of these instant streaming applications.
"Binge-watching” is defined as watching three or more episodes of a show in the same day, according to a survey done by TiVo.
Today, millions of people around the globe possess in their homes the ability to access a nearly endless amount of titles on instant streaming platforms either through their cable services, or through an outside streaming platform.
These applications are available on anything from smart TV’s, DVD players, video gaming systems, smart phones, laptops, etc. and allow for the user to instantly have the ability to watch shows or movies anytime, anywhere.
This new technology has many people in show business buzzing about the drastic change in the entertainment landscape.
In an interview with the International Business Times, Kevin Spacey, star of the Netflix television show “House of Cards” applauded the way Netflix has been able to strike such a note among television consumers.
“Clearly the success of the Netflix model, releasing the entire season of ‘House of Cards’ at once, proved one thing: The audience wants control. They want the freedom. If they want to binge as they’ve been doing on ‘House of Cards’ and lots of other shows, we should let them,” said Spacey in the interview.
The ability to seamlessly watch episode after episode of your favorite show right at your fingertips may sound like the ultimate form of home entertainment to some, however it has others interested in the social aspects of “binge-watching”.
Researchers have speculated that the misuse of instant streaming applications by users could lead to depression, anxiety and other social disorders similar to other bingeing behaviors or vice versa.
Dr. Scott Carlson, the head of the psychology program at UMD thinks there are many different factors that play into why a person may have bingeing tendencies toward streaming devices.
“Often times people use bingeing as a way to escape from issues in their own life, similarly to bingeing on food or alcohol,” Carlson said. “Or it could be as simple as the viewer’s really getting hooked on a good plot-line and doesn’t want to put it down like a good book. There is no clear-cut answer at this point,” Carlson said.
Another factor that Carlson believes increases bingeing tendencies is the lack of simple self-control and keeping temptations in check in today’s society.
“Often times people may not even want to watch the next episode of a show, but many websites allow for the very next episode to play immediately after the last one ends which makes it more difficult for a person to walk away from the screen,” Carlson said.
In a society where mass media has the ability to stimulate a person all day every day, it is no wonder “binge-watching” has become commonplace.
But, who exactly is more prone to bingeing is a much deeper question that requires more study.
Dr. Aaron Boyson a professor who specializes in media effects on society gave a different reason for why he believes people binge watch.
“I would think that your social context in which you live would be a very influencing in your viewing habits,” Boyson said. “I know I as a father in my forties would not be as susceptible to binge watching simply because I don’t have the time for it.”
People in college or who have a very flexible schedule would likely be more prone to bingeing, according to Boyson.
He believes that the phenomenon of binge watching can be compared to the drug use cycle, in which the happiness “high” of watching an episode is only as meaningful as when the next episode begins.
“People with anxiety or depression turn to television more, we know that," said Boyson. "The thing with applications such as Netflix or Hulu is that now the ‘high’ of watching a show can be continued longer, and the ‘sobriety’ if you will, does not need to last for a week or until the next time your program comes on."
An admitted, “binge-watcher” of Battlestar Galactica, Boyson also believes that there are positive social aspects that these streaming sites provide for specific age groups or persons with a significant other.
“My wife and I have binged on shows before together, and I think that has positive social ramifications. The ability for us to spend time together relaxing and watching a great show is invaluable to me especially since my schedule is so hectic with two children,” Boyson said.
It isn’t uncommon to hear people discuss their Netflix tendencies to others. Even binge watching with a group of people has become wildly popular.
The weather is another factor that greatly affects viewing habits for the masses. Television schedules often run on an agrarian calendar because cable networks know when people are more likely to be inside.
Netflix also itself utilizes this strategy by releasing television shows and movies more prevalently in the winter, than they would in other seasons.
Although some research is available, it is too early to connect the dots to anything in relation to binge watching until more studies are done with variable manipulation.
Whether it is your social environment, your avoidance of other issues in life, or simply you just got caught up in a series, it is obvious that binge watching has become more entrenched in our daily fabric that it ever could before.